When I heard the National Football League was considering eliminating and enforcing a penalty against ball carriers that lower their heads as defenders were attempting to tackle them, I wasn’t sure what to think? It almost seems instinctive for a runner to lower his head when he sees a defender coming at him. As a defender, I was always taught to get lower than the man I was trying to tackle in order to bring him down. In response to this, ball carries attempt to get lower. As of this season, if EITHER player makes contact with the other using the crown of their helmet, flags will fly.
It’s not the facemask or incidental contact with the sides of a helmet, it’s the overt lowering of one’s head and using it as a battering ram that will draw the attention of the referee. Even though some were concerned about how the new rule would be enforced on the field by officials, with Commissioner Roger Goodell’s help and 31-1 vote, it passed with flying colors. Cincinnati was the lone no vote, and maybe like myself, they realized the only color we’ll see flying because of this rule change… is yellow.
I understand, and am 100% behind the NFL doing everything it can when it comes to player safety, but am I the only one that believes this is just another opportunity for referees to get involved in the game… possibly effecting its outcome. If a ball carrier uses the crown of their helmet to make FORCIBLE contact with a defender in the OPEN FIELD, it will draw a 15 yard penalty from the spot of the foul. If both players lower their helmets and make forcible contact, both will be penalized (replay the down??).
I’ve heard comments from players and executives on both sides of the new rule, I’m still very skeptical. The NFL’s all-time leading rusher and former Dallas Cowboys running back Emmitt Smith wasn’t exactly enthused by the rule change. “If I’m a running back and I’m running into a linebacker, you’re telling me I have to keep my head up so he can take my chin off?” commented Smith to a radio station in Dallas, “you’ve absolutely lost your mind.” Emmitt sounded concerned about losing his head, and so should running backs around the league this season. I’m going to need to see the rule in-action, observe the enforcement of the rule, and examine its ramifications on that game. If it were up to me, I would have had this rule tested during the preseason this year, then examine the data for voting next year. I think the more data the better, and with the testing during the preseason, we could see how the rule and its enforcement either positively or negatively affect the game.
The open field portion of the rule seems to be a bit of a grey area. The rule will allow for a ball carrier to lower his head while running between the tackles within three yards off the line scrimmage, allowing for some gritty inside running. Never fear football fans, you’ll still get those fourth and short battles of attrition and goal line stands that keep you at the edge of your seat; but that first long run called back for your team’s runner forcibly using the crown of his helmet in the open field will have you and me both, shaking our heads.
-Joseph Haas Editor, HCoftheNYJ.com